History of Civilization in England, Vol. 2 of 3

History of Civilization in England, Vol. 2 of 3

by Henry Thomas Buckle

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History of Civilization in England, Vol. 2 of 3 by Henry Thomas Buckle

The consideration of these great changes in the English mind, has led me into a digression, which, so far from being foreign to the design of this Introduction, is absolutely necessary for a right understanding of it. In this, as in many other respects, there is a marked analogy between investigations concerning the structure of society and investigations concerning the human body. Thus, it has been found, that the best way of arriving at a theory of disease is by beginning with the theory of health; and that the foundation of all sound pathology must be first sought in an observation, not of the abnormal, but of the normal functions of life. Just in the same way, it will, I believe, be found, that the best method of arriving at great social truths, is by first investigating those cases in which society has developed itself according to its own laws, and in which the governing powers have least opposed themselves to the spirit of their times.[1] It is on this account that, in[2] order to understand the position of France, I have begun by examining the position of England. In order to understand the way in which the diseases of the first country were aggravated by the quackery of ignorant[3] rulers, it was necessary to understand the way in which the health of the second country was preserved by being subjected to smaller interference, and allowed with greater liberty to continue its natural march. With the light, therefore, which we have acquired by a study of the normal condition of the English mind, we can, with the greater ease, now apply our principles to that abnormal condition of French society, by the operations of which, at the close of the eighteenth century, some of the dearest interests of civilization were imperilled.
In France, a long train of events, which I shall hereafter relate, had, from an early period, given to the clergy a share of power larger than that which they[4] possessed in England. The results of this were for a time decidedly beneficial, inasmuch as the church restrained the lawlessness of a barbarous age, and secured a refuge for the weak and oppressed. But as the French advanced in knowledge, the spiritual authority, which had done so much to curb their passions, began to press heavily upon their genius, and impede its movements. That same ecclesiastical power, which to an ignorant age is an unmixed benefit, is to a more enlightened age a serious evil. The proof of this was soon apparent. For when the Reformation broke out, the church had in England been so weakened, that it fell almost at the first assault; its revenues were seized by the crown,[2] and its offices, after being greatly diminished both in authority and in wealth, were bestowed upon new men, who, from the uncertainty of their tenure, and the novelty of their doctrines, lacked that long-established prescription by which the claims of the profession are mainly supported. This, as we have already seen, was the beginning of an uninterrupted progress, in which, at every successive step, the ecclesiastical spirit lost some of its influence. In France, on the other hand, the clergy were so powerful, that they were able to withstand the Reformation, and thus preserve for themselves those exclusive privileges which their English brethren vainly attempted to retain.
This was the beginning of that second marked divergence between French and English civilization,[3] which had its origin, indeed, at a much earlier period, but which now first produced conspicuous results. Both countries had, in their infancy, been greatly benefited by the church, which always showed itself ready to protect the people against the oppressions of the crown[5] and the nobles.[4] But in both countries, as society advanced, there arose a capacity for self-protection; and early in the sixteenth, or probably even in the fifteenth century, it became urgently necessary to diminish that spiritual authority, which, by prejudging the opinions of men, has impeded the march of their knowledge.[5] It is on this account that Protestantism, so far from being, as its enemies have called it, an aberration arising from accidental causes, was essentially a normal movement, and was the legitimate expression of the wants of the European intellect. Indeed, the Reformation owed its success, not to a desire of purifying the church, but to a desire of lightening its pressure; and it may be broadly stated, that it was adopted in every civilized country, except in those where preceding events had increased the influence of the ecclesiastical order, either among the people or among their rulers. This was, unhappily, the case with France, where the clergy not only triumphed over the Protestants, but appeared, for a time, to have gained fresh authority by the defeat of such dangerous enemies.[6]
The consequence of all this was, that in France,[6] every thing assumed a more theological aspect than in England. In our country, the ecclesiastical spirit had,

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BN ID: 2940148335795
Publisher: Lost Leaf Publications
Publication date: 01/13/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 815 KB

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